PWRDF director succumbs to cancer

Robin Gibson, director of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund since 1993, died of cancer at his home in Toronto on December 27. An obituary follows.

Robin Gibson: 1953 – 1998

Integrity, vision, a love of justice in an inspired administrator

TORONTO (Dec. 28) — When Robin Gibson’s computer went to sleep, the screen saver that came up said “Justice, not just us.”

“That was the real focus of his life,” said Rob Shropshire, a colleague and friend. “He possessed a deep sense of justice at the global level.”

Robin Neil Gibson, director of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) since 1993, died at home the evening of December 27, after a long illness. Despite taking a turn for the worse several weeks before, Mr. Gibson, 45, had told colleagues that he would be back at work in January.

PWRDF, the Anglican Church of Canada fund that supports development, refugees and disaster relief, loses a skilled and committed administrator as well as a director of vision and integrity.

His colleagues lose a friend with, in Mr. Shropshire’s words, “a strong sense of vocation and a strong sense of community.”

One of Mr. Gibson’s main goals as director of PWRDF was to bring the work of the fund home to each individual Anglican, said Mr. Shropshire, PWRDF development coordinator for Africa. “His idea was to develop within the Anglican constituency a vision of the primate’s fund where it is integrated into the heart and life of every parish,” he said. This lead to a restructuring of the fund and to the designation of parish representatives.

Archbishop Michael Peers, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, described Mr. Gibson as “an administrator par excellence – an amazing combination of ‘shop steward’ in his concern for the fair treatment of people who worked for him and manager.”

Mr. Gibson was diagnosed as having cancer in late 1994.

“Life since then has been a series of plateaus each ending with a major drop of some kind,” Archbishop Peers recalled. “He said his worst days were when he looked at the questions ‘Why” and ‘What if.’ His best days were when he looked at the question ‘What do I do today?'”

Archbishop Peers described Mr. Gibson as “a very private person” but added that despite that innate sense of privacy he had done his utmost to keep his staff informed about his condition, and in recent weeks, to prepare them for his death.

Mr. Shropshire said that after the cancer diagnosis, Mr. Gibson remained very open about his illness. “It was important for him to share the information instead of trying to carry it all on his own shoulders or keeping it a secret.”

He added that after every treatment session, Mr. Gibson would report back to the staff. “If it was good news he would share it through voice mail; if it was bad news he would speak to people individually.”

Archbishop Peers, Mr. Gibson’s supervisor, recalled that in a performance appraisal, Mr. Gibson had once been described by a Canadian International Development Agency official as “among the very few brightest minds in development policy in this country.”

Robin Gibson was born in Kampala Uganda in 1953, the son of Dr. Donald Gibson, a medical doctor and missionary, and his wife, Elizabeth. He had a twin sister, Joy.

He came to Toronto, Canada, in 1959 and was educated at Jarvis Collegiate Institute. He went to a British boarding school, St. Lawrence College, Ramsgate, between 1969 and 1971 while his parents returned to Uganda.

“My travels to East Africa during school vacations sparked my interest in overseas work,” Mr. Gibson later recalled.

He took a Bachelor’s degree in science at Trinity College, the University of Toronto, and later a Master’s degree in social work, also at the University of Toronto, graduating from that program in 1977.

His involvement in overseas development and relief work began early.

Between 1979 and 1982, he worked with the Christian Council of Lesotho, South Africa, as an organizer for the Migrant Labor Commission. His work involved organizing assistance for the families of men involved in migratory labor to South Africa.

Between 1982 and 1984, he managed a team of 17 volunteers for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) of Lesotho. For five months in 1984 he worked as a resource person for the MCC in Pennsylvania.

Between 1985 and 1987, Mr. Gibson was employed as a community worker with the Children’s Aid Society of Metro Toronto.

He joined the national staff of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1987, as PWRDF’s Asia/Pacific Development Coordinator. In that position, he oversaw the allocation of PWRDF resources to projects in those parts of the world, and, in keeping with the PWRDF philosophy, he ensured that those resources were used primarily to help people to help themselves. As with all PWRDF regional coordinators, a good part of his work schedule involved traveling to the area he was responsible for to monitor how those resources were used.

He was acting director of PWRDF for about a year before his appointment as director.

He held a number of supplementary positions as well, serving as a member of the
Canada Asia Working Group, the coordinating committee of the Philippines Canada Human Resource Development Program and the Asia/Pacific Working Group of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

Mr. Gibson was also chair of Inter-Church Action for Development, Relief and Justice, chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Council of Churches and a member of the board of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

Archbishop Peers said that Mr. Gibson, as PWRDF director, had a rigorous sense of fairness and responsibility. He recalled that when budget cuts forced a downsizing of PWRDF several years ago, some staff members suggested everyone should be involved in deciding what would be cut.

“As an administrator, he stayed the course,” Archbishop Peers said. “He said ‘No, the responsibility is mine.’ He always had a strong sense of what would be fairest for people with the fewest advantages. He was a superb administrator.”

At Church House, Mr. Gibson was also known as an avid crossword puzzle solver and a keen and talented wood worker. Among his favorite topics of conversation were carpentry projects he was involved in. A truly proud personal accomplishment for him was a course he took with his father a couple of years ago, during which each carved a small wooden duck.

In the months since last summer when his illness became acute, Mr. Gibson had drawn a great deal of strength from the expressions of support people sent him. An entire wall in his home, which he was in the process of renovating, was covered with cards and letters.

Other than his parents and twin sister Joy and her husband Len Block, Mr. Gibson leaves a brother, Ian and his partner, Linda Green, a nephew, Eli, and four nieces – Rohanna, Zoey, Nicole and Stefanie.

Funeral services were scheduled for the afternoon of December 30, at St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto.

Mr. Gibson had asked that donations in lieu of flowers be made to PWRDF.


Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .